If realism is not opposed to idealism, but to anti-realism, and realism is just a generic position applied to certain things but not others, why we often hear that idealism is anti-reality, that realism is opposed to idealism (here for instance), and why realism is defined somehow in opposition to idealism (See this question and its answers, amont other sources backing my question).

  • This is because there are multiple "flavors" of antitheses: inverse, reverse, and obverse come to mind; or think of antipodes (opposite ends of a spectrum) vs. not being on the same spectrum at all, or being on a spectrum A that is antipodal to a spectrum B (on a higher-order level). Offhand, anti-realism is the inverse of realism, whereas idealism is a reversal (of the priority of res over eidos, so to say). (I am not confident in this exact assessment and offer it merely for illustrative purposes.) Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 6:00
  • The higher-order spectra description: imagine first a line segment A, each of whose endpoints is antipodal relative to the other. Label the endpoints a and b. Now, a and b are opposites internally for A. But now imagine, second-dimensionally, another line segment B, which is antipodal for a square determined by the parallelism of A and B. So while some a.2 might be parallel to a, there, with some b.2 diagonal to a, yet a.2 is still "opposed to" a on this higher-order/higher-dimensional level. Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 6:06
  • Because uses of "idealism" historically were and still are all over the place and, overall, incoherent, as Wikipedia illustrates. Their attempt to square the circle by distilling a common denominator only confuses it further. SEP gives up on that, distinguishes "two fundamental conceptions of idealism" in modern philosophy, metaphysical and epistemological, and sticks to the former only. It is still a mess, but less so.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 7:10
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    @Conifold The wikipedia page says: "Metaphysical idealism is an ontological doctrine that holds that reality itself is incorporeal or experiential at its core." and "subjective idealists and phenomenalists tend to privilege sensory experience over abstract reasoning" But I thought that precisely idealists believe in the superiority of mental representation over sensory experience, that to me can not but be physical
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 7:29
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    "Precisely idealists" do not exist, the word has no precise meaning even remotely. SEP is a much more authoritative source, but even they give a whole spread of what "idealists believe", including interpreting sensory and other experience as non-physical, and foundation of reality at that, or not. The label is just not of much use you'd like to make of it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 7:38

1 Answer 1


'Realism' is used in different ways depending on the context and on what it is being contrasted with. For example, when speaking of realism with respect to properties or universals, realism is contrasted with nominalism. Realism about mathematical objects is often contrasted with constructivism. Realism about scientific laws and entities is usually contrasted with instrumentalism. Realism about other minds might be contrasted with solipsism. Realism about morality can be contrasted with subjectivism or conventionalism. Realism with respect to the existence of an external world may be contrasted with phenomenalism, but it may also be contrasted with some forms of idealism.

Michael Dummett coined the term 'anti-realism' as a generic way to refer to anything contrasted with realism. The basic concept behind realism is that things exist, or propositions hold true, independently of us, whereas anti-realism maintains that the primary reality consists of mental constructions, perceptions, sensations, thoughts, etc. There are many different varieties of each, so it is difficult to be more specific without discussing the views of particular philosophers.

  • So it comes back to my question: "is realism real?" if this term has so many meanings that at the end it means nothing... philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/96738/…
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 15:15
  • "but it may also be contrasted with some forms of idealism." which forms?
    – Starckman
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 15:16
  • I would say particularly the classical idealism of the 18th century philosophers such as Berkeley and Hume.
    – Bumble
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 4:22
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    Hume is indeed a skeptical empiricist, but this is not incompatible with being an idealist. It is somewhat controversial to describe Hume as an idealist, since he did not call his own position idealism, but he follows Berkeley in holding that ideas are fundamental and that what we call bodies or objects are just bundles of ideas. Likewise, the external world, causation, and even the self, are for Hume just the product of custom or the imagination and lack any basis in reason.
    – Bumble
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 5:36
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Bumble
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 7:59

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